Saturday, March 25, 2017

We Walk into a Cantina in Old Town Clovis

Henry's Cantina in a hundred year old building, Old Town Clovis, California
Henry’s Cantina, Clovis, California
“Hey, what are you doing?” Someone was yelling inside Henry’s Cantina. We couldn’t be sure if he was talking to us, but there was no one else around. We were outside, taking pictures of the place. So we went inside.

“We thought somebody was about to get served,” the bartender said, but she wasn’t the one who yelled. There were only two other people in the bar, a couple. We introduced ourselves, and learned that the couple was Den and Maria, and the bartender was LoLo. LoLo had been curious about the guy taking pictures outside, so Den had taken it upon himself to find out the story.

On the street outside Henry's Cantina in Old Town Clovis, California
So we told them about our project to visit a bar and a church every week, and that this month’s bar visits are dedicated to Old Town Clovis since I’m working in a hotel there.

We learned that Henry’s has been around for awhile; the building is 150 years old. All three people in the bar quickly assured us that if we’d come at another time, we’d have found more people there. After ten minutes or so, other people did come in. And when they came in, LoLo greeted them effusively, usually giving them a hug. (We didn’t get a hug, but then again, she didn’t know us yet when we walked in.)

I ordered a bourbon and water and Mindy asked about ciders. LoLo suggested a Peach Bellini. Mindy said sure, though she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d get. Turns out it’s a malt beverage in a bottle.

When we came in, rock music was playing and World’s Most Amazing Videos (naked skiers, geek fight club, grisly soccer injuries) was playing on the TV. But after a while, LoLo asked Den if he’d like the channel changed when The Walking Dead came on, remembering he was a fan.

I sat next to Den and Maria, and they told me they were in the neighborhood to see their daughter, but she wasn’t home, so they came to Henry’s. Good grandparents that they are, it wasn’t long before they were telling me about their grandchildren. I heard about a grandson who was learning karate and a granddaughter who was into hip-hop. Maria showed me pictures of her granddaughter in a recent performance, and, yes, she was adorable.

An old guy in a cowboy hat at the end of the bar asked for country music and Lolo checked with everyone else to see if they were okay with that and she made the change. (Particularly, he requested Marty Robbins’ “The Streets of Laredo.”) Another man said, "No karaoke tonight, then?" Lolo said no, not this week.

Eventually I asked Maria and Den the two questions we always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” (Many times we phrase that second question with the preface, “Whether you go to church or not,” but Den and Maria had already mentioned that they’d been to St. John’s in downtown Fresno.) Den said a good bar should have “friendly conversation. When you walk in you feel welcome. You don’t feel looked down on.”

It was important to Maria that “the waitress is friendly.” They like LoLo. LoLo also bartends at the Outlaw Tavern in Clovis, and Maria and Den said they follow her where she goes. Maria said she goes to a bar as a “stress reliever;” she wants to go to a place where she can relax and talk with people.

Maria told me about a bad experience at another bar. She’d had a tough day at work. She wanted to go out for a drink, but she was too tired to get dressed up so she just threw on a sweatshirt, an Oakland Raiders sweatshirt. When they went up to the bar, the bartender said, “We don’t serve Raiders fans.”

Den said there was no indication that the guy was joking, but even if he was, people shouldn’t joke like that if they don’t know the people they’re dealing with. Maria knew Den would react to what the bartender said, and he didn’t disappoint. Eventually the manager tried to smooth things out, but clearly, the two don’t want to return to the place anytime soon. (Henry’s Cantina, on the other hand, has signage to indicate it is a welcoming place for the Raider Nation. I admitted I was a hurting 49ers fan, as all 49ers fans are these day, and Den offered nothing but sympathy.)

Den also said a good bar was makes accommodations for guests -- for instance, changing the music or TV for people, as Lolo had shown she was willing to do. Maria mentioned that a good test of a bar is whether they make a good Bloody Mary. (LoLo popped into the conversation at that moment saying, “A Bloody Mary is a good sign.” She mentioned she’d learned how to make good Bloody Marys from Sherry, the bartender at Outlaw who she greatly admires and works with on occasion.)

As for what makes for a good church, Maria quickly said the priest. Den said there are two faces to religion. There can be an ugly side that judges people, but there is also a side with openness and understanding where people speak from the heart.

Maria then asked for no more questions, but I still asked her to tell me more about her granddaughter (who will be in a dance show at the Saroyan Theater soon). Maria said that Den could talk to people all night long.

Meanwhile, Mindy was talking to the man next to her at the bar. Lolo had asked about his motorcycle and his new baby when he came in, teasing him for not coming to the bar for awhile. He introduced himself to Mindy as Anthony and told her that a way to know a good bar was when the bartender was “somebody like LoLo. She always remembers what you want” and will probably have it ready by the time you sit down. Aside from that, he said, the important thing was whether the bar fits you. “I like small. Classic rock, chill, people my age or older. I don’t want a bunch of punks who want to fight.” If all that’s good, he says the price isn’t as important.

When Mindy asked what made for a good church, he said, “I went to Christian school.” In those days, he also attended a local megachurch. As he got older, “my understanding of how things work changed.” He particularly didn’t like the big church’s emphasis on money. Now, he said, he likes Cornerstone.“You can be who you are”

He talked a little about wearing fancy clothes to church to show honor to God. “In my opinion God doesn’t care what you wear, he cares about who you are.” He mentioned a weekly men’s meeting at Cornerstone where a free meal is served, followed by worship. “It’s pretty awesome.” He said he also likes Lifepointe.

So, to answer Den’s initial question, “What are you doing?” We were having a great time with the fine folks at Henry’s Cantina, even though they didn’t do karaoke that night after all.  

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